Diri: Time to Hit the Ground Running in Bayelsa

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By Stanley Nkwazema

On Wednesday February, 26, the apex court in the country threw out the case of David Lyon of the All Progressives Congress (APC), seeking the reversal of its judgement that sacked him as governor of Bayelsa State. Not only did the court, in the judgement read by Justice Amina Augie, throw out the request for a review, it ordered their lawyers, Afe Babalola and Wole Olanipekun, to pay the three respondents – INEC, Governor Douye Diri and his deputy, Lawrence Ewhwrudjakpo – N10 million each.

It has indeed been a tortuous and difficult experience for the new Governor Diri, his deputy, the former governor Seriake Dickson and the people of Bayelsa after the November 16 governorship election in which INEC declared the APC candidates winners. Not only was the election faulted due to the irregularities, rigging and falsification of results, orchestrated with the obvious connivance of the security agencies, led by the Nigerian Army, INEC staff and adhoc staff recruited mostly from the University of Benin, it was fraught with several conspiracy theories of confusion that got observers dumbfounded. Many believed APC never had any business in that tension-soaked election after the High Court had delivered a judgement sacking the APC Deputy Governorship candidate, Erimienyo, three days to the election. But the APC chieftains yet went to the Appeal Court to get the party candidates back in the election. The party was also embroiled in controversy in a separate case brought by Heineken Lokpobiri, a gubernatorial aspirant of the APC, faulting the parties’ primaries that gave the ticket to David Lyon.

Besides the widespread condemnation that greeted the outcome and subsequent judgments by the Appeal Court which threw out the earlier judgement of the High Courts, Diri and Dickson were still optimistic that the last hope would come from the Supreme Court and God’s intervention in the affairs of Bayelsa.

Dickson never wavered or showed signs of stress while the court cases were on, as he moved round to commission several projects in the state, including the International airport which has been turned into a political chess board. At every point where he cut tapes and spoke, Dickson, like a man being guided by a higher spirit, believed so much that justice would ultimately be in PDP’s favour. He maintained that the Restoration government will continue from where he stopped.

And as soon as news filtered in that the Certificate of Return had been issued to Douye, he knew that truth had prevailed and waited patiently till the man from Kolokuma/Opokuma Local Government Area touched down in Yenagoa. After the Swearing- in formalities performed by the state’s Chief Judge, Justice Kate Abi, at the open space and car park of the Government House, where the ceremony was shifted to, due to the fact that the usual venue for the swearing in was already decorated by the APC and rehearsals completed before the shocking dismissal from the Supreme Court, Dickson could be seen watching the proceedings with so much joy.

The crowd of supporters, who had thinned out in the few days to the swearing-in and jumped ship to the APC before the February 14 date, suddenly became uncontrollable. Everybody wanted to identify with the man who has interestingly turned a hero. Though, he took him round the government house, it was more emotional when Dickson, the new governor and his deputy were ushered into the Governor’s office. As the official portraits were being removed to make room for Douye’s, the former Governor who has retired to his village, was overcome with emotion. He took over the portraits and was hanging it himself after which he gave Douye a bear hug before returning to the Government House, now as visitor to sit with Douye and crowd of friends and supporters who filled the open space at the Governors lodge.

To many, Dickson was stubborn to a fault. But despite the many oppositions and the general attitude of his people, he stood his ground and focused on bringing education and infrastructure development to the state. Even as Dickson was criticized for making what they called wrong choices, including the emergence of Douye and Ewhrudjakpo, despite the array of qualified candidates, Dickson hinged his decision on the fact that he wanted a man who will defend the cause of the Ijaw nation To Dickson, it was to the glory of God that he left Government house in a blaze of glory, in spite of the shocking array of political forces that turned against him and in spite of the service he rendered. While lamenting that the security of Bayelsa was outsourced to criminal elements who unleashed an orgy of violence on the state since 2015, Dickson pointed out that the thugs of the main opposition party in the state, who killed 21 people in the Nembe Local Government Area were still all over town without the expected concern and condemnation from the federal government.

He said: “Even when the election results were announced against the People’s Democratic Party, there was no violence in consonance with his politics without bitterness or violence. The thugs of the APC destroyed a lot of property in Yenagoa, including the residences of the immediate past governor, the new governor and the well-stocked library of Professor Steve Azaiki, a member of the House of Representatives at Opolo, as well as the destruction of property worth millions of Naira, in response to the Supreme Court Judgment.

“When we were ready for the transition, I called the whole state to pray and fast. While we prayed and fasted, I considered a lot things, I consulted and took decisions. You are all in this state. You saw the reactions, and when the elections came, there was nothing I didn’t do as a human being for things to go well. People came here with result sheets. The Nigerian military shut down the whole state, and wrote results and used people to legitimise it, shouting to vilify me and to justify the wrong they did. And people believed those lies.

“As we lost, there was no violence. I didn’t come into politics to kill people, to destroy or maim. Ordinary rally three days to election, they killed 21 human beings. Even if you kill 21 goats or chickens, the owner will shout. Nigeria was not bothered. The security agencies connived with them to kill our people. Since 2015, they have been killing our people, even without election. They will drive people away, burn down their houses; this country since 2015 outsourced Bayelsa to criminals with security agencies supporting and protecting them. It is in these circumstances that I held the state just from your support and with the help of the Almighty God.”

Just as Dickson was escorted to his village, Toru Orua, Sagbama Local Government Area, by the few friends, including the new Deputy Governor, who stood by him till the Supreme Court ruling, and those that made a sudden U-turn to the subsequent hand-over of baton to Diri, the former governor was upbeat. He insisted: “I didn’t forget or abandon my agenda for my people while they were distracting and blackmailing me everywhere, spreading falsehood. The people that should have been supporting and encouraging me were the same people distracting me, destabilising the state. Yet I left Government House very fulfilled to the glory of God.”
In a statement the new governor delivered after being inaugurated, which falls on the 14th day of February, Douye told the people of Bayelsa State and the Ijaw Nation that it was fitting that providentially, the inauguration of the governor of Bayelsa State falls on February 14, the day recognised for agape love and universally celebrated as St. Valentine’s Day, named for a Christian martyr.

“On this historically auspicious day, we cannot fail to remember the scores of innocent Bayelsans whose lives were cruelly terminated in what became a futile effort at truncating the will of God for the people of Bayelsa. Valentine’s Day should remind us about sacrifice. It should be about nurturing our families and promoting the spirit of giving, sharing and sacrificing. Sadly, this lesson was lost on some politicians, who resorted to brigandage and violence without recognising the fact that God is the giver of all good things.

“Suffice to say the meandering path that has brought us to this destination has been a chastening experience. It has taught us patience, love and reconciliation along the way. It has also rekindled our determination to serve the people even more passionately. The Supreme Court, the highest judicial body in the land, in an extraordinary ruling, affirmed the mandate that you, the good people of Bayelsa, freely gave me and my running mate, Distinguished Senator Lawrence Ewhrudjakpo, to run the affairs of the state on November 16, 2019. We are extremely mindful of the supreme sacrifice of our dearly departed and I request your indulgence to have a minute silence for our fallen heroes. “We are also honoured and humbled by the trust you placed in us. Our profound appreciation goes to the brave justices of the Supreme Court for their courage. In all these, the glory and praise are due to God Almighty, the maker of heaven and earth. We acknowledge that this victory was made possible only because power ultimately comes from above and by reason of your steadfast resolve. On behalf of our families, therefore, we thank you all for your kind endorsement of our Consolidated Prosperity Agenda.”

On the agenda of renewing hope, which he has promised the people of Bayelsa State, he added: “To the young men and women who are looking at the future with trepidation, we say hope is here. To the small business owners looking for ways to advance their businesses, we say hope is here. To the entrepreneurs that feel they cannot get a fair opportunity to grow their dreams, we say hope is here.

“My dear brothers and sisters across Bayelsa, who face the challenge of paying their children’s school fees, we say hope is here. To the young Bayelsans that are wondering if they have to leave our lovely state to find work, we say hope is here.”

On the reconciliatory process, he confirmed that a committee will be set up and will soon start work. Douye explained: “To those Bayelsans that did not vote for our party, the People’s Democratic Party, we respect and honour your choice. We will strive to be a government for all Bayelsans and not just those who voted for us.

“Victory in a political contest should not be an end in itself. Rather it is a means to an end. Therefore, this victory alone is not indicative of progress. It is only the platform for progress, which will make life more meaningful for the majority of our people; create more and better paying jobs, secure our communities, create the conducive environment that will enable outstanding young men and women to survive, thrive and secure their future.

“We recognize that there will be obstacles. But, with your support, nothing can stop us. Some will not agree with every decision or policy we make as a government, but you have our solemn promise that every constructive criticism will be embraced and given the required consideration.”

The new Governor is therefore extending a hand of fellowship to all stakeholders and progressive-minded individuals to join hands with him “to build the Bayelsa of our dreams; a place we can all be proud to call home. We will ensure that the dividends of democracy are equally guaranteed to all, without regards to political persuasion.”

On Bayelsans in Diaspora, Douye said: “We also send a strong message of solidarity to Bayelsans in the Diaspora; the future is brighter. Come home with your expertise and resources to help develop our state. Bayelsa is blessed with the world’s largest mangrove vegetation, an abundance of tourist attractions as well as the largest gas reserves in our country. Let us renew our love for our natural environment and seek to preserve it. Let us find ingenious ways of diversifying our economy.”

Diri explained that it was affirmation of God’s judgement, which paved the way for him to emerge victorious, while insisting that there is no victor no vanquished as the victory is for all Bayelsans regardless of party affiliation. The triumphant Bayelsa governor commended the courage and sagacity of the apex court Justices in affirming their earlier judgement of February 13, 2020.

“Once again, I describe myself as a miracle governor. So the Supreme Court just affirmed the judgement of the Almighty God, who made it possible for me to become the governor of Bayelsa State. For me, there is no victor no vanquished as the victory is for all Bayelsans. It is not a winner takes all.

“My message is that of reconciliation as I will run an all-inclusive government. Let everyone that is aggrieved sheathe their swords. Let us think about Bayelsa first and ourselves last. By this judgement, it is clear the final hurdle has been cleared.”

He said his government would bring in people that have what it takes to contribute to development of the state and not those who will run it down. Like a man on a familiar terrain, Diri wants to focus on the economy, agriculture and business development, so as to diversify the economy of Bayelsa State, insisting that a situation where federating units run to the Centre for monthly allocations would not augur well for the development of state economies.

To Diri, investors would not come into an environment where peace is absent which informed his full disposition to total reconciliation of all aggrieved individuals and groups regardless of their political parties, including Chief Ndutimi Alaibe, his kinsman who placed second during the PDP primaries last September to put aside his grievances and join him in developing Bayelsa State for the benefit of all regardless of Party inclination. According to Diri, his Party is making frantic efforts to resolve the matter as a PDP family affair.

He said inspite of the provocative attacks of his supporters and those of his deputy, there was no retaliatory attacks by his supporters and those of his deputy in their various communities. Governor Diri again emphasised the call for investors to come to the state as his administration would do all that is needed to create the enabling environment for economic development and growth in the State.

The new governor said his predecessor had done a lot in the area of education and that he was going to continue to make sure that qualitative and free education is available to the children in Bayelsa State. He said education would continue to be solid bedrock for economic emancipation of the people of Bayelsa.